Object-based Essay

Both through my lecture slides and through this assignment, ANTH 3 involves engaging in the Hood Museum of Art collections, and with the museum in general as a space of anthropological knowledge and an object of ethnographic analysis. Together with museum colleagues, I will offer three X-Hour opportunities to tour the museum throughout the term. These are optional, but will be enjoyable!   

This assignment asks you to write an ethnographically informed essay about a work of art (or, if you would like, to compare two pieces in line with the prompts below). You are asked to choose work from a new exhibit, This Land: American Engagement with the Natural World, but you are welcome to pick another piece that is currently on display in the museum during winter term if you would prefer.The essay should illuminate your object(s) of choice, by which I mean making it “come alive” in terms of its anthropological significance and cultural relevance. Your essay should address the following questions:

  • What is the object? When, where, how, by whom was it made? Describe this object in your own words. 
  • What type of cultural knowledge did the creation of this work require of its maker? How is this skill manifest in the work itself?
  • For whom was this artwork intended? How is this artwork created? How is it now being displayed and viewed? How is the scene of its reception shaping its meaning or effects in the world?
  • What issue/problem/experience (social, cultural, environmental, political) does this work address?
  • Use at least one social theory we have discussed in class to help “frame” this object and your analysis of it. Why is this theory a good choice in terms of helping diverse audiences experience and appreciate this object?
  • Relate this object to at least one other course text and the argument it is making. How does this source help you to contextualize, compare, or further understand the object?
  • What questions does the object leave you with? If you could have a conversation with the person who created this work, what questions would you ask?

Your “argument” in this essay should be to tell the reader why this object matters. What does it teach us? What tools of anthropological theory and comparative ethnography can help us to understand its significance and, in that sense, its value? Assessment of this essay will be based on how well you address the above questions (quality of writing, clarity of argument). I am providing you flexibility on when you write and turn in this essay, but you should generally treat this as a “midterm.” You can submit this essay anytime between the beginning of Week 4 (Jan. 28) and the end of Week 8 (Feb. 25). The essay should be 1500 words and is worth 25% of your grade.


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